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Please note: The Frank Talk articles listed below contain historical material. The data provided was current at the time of publication. For current information regarding any of the funds mentioned in these presentations, please visit the appropriate fund performance page.

Fidel Castro’s Cuba vs Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore: A Tale of Two Economies (UPDATE)
November 29, 2016

On Friday, November 25, Fidel Castro died at age 90. The former revolutionary and hardline dictator of Cuba was among the 20th century’s longest-serving leaders, third only to Elizabeth II and Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, who passed away in October.

Castro’s death comes at a pivotal moment in U.S.-Cuban relations. With trade between the two countries on the path to normalization, and with U.S. airlines making scheduled flights to Havana for the first time in more than 50 years, President-elect Donald J. Trump has pledged to reinstate many of the Cold War embargos that were lifted by President Barack Obama.

“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” Trump tweeted on November 28.

In light of Castro’s passing, we are rerunning this Frank Talk from March 2015, in which Frank compares and analyzes the widely divergent economies of Cuba and Singapore under their now-deceased leaders, Castro and Lee Kuan Yew. 

A Victoria's Secret in the Toronto Pearson International AirportIt would be nearly impossible to find two world leaders in living memory whose influence is more inextricably linked to the countries they presided over than Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away this Monday at the age of 91.

You might find this hard to believe now, but in 1959—the year both leaders assumed power—Cuba was a much wealthier nation than Singapore. Whereas Singapore was little more than a sleepy former colonial trading and naval outpost with very few natural resources, Cuba enjoyed a thriving tourism industry and was rich in tobacco, sugar and coffee.

Fast forward about 55 years, and things couldn’t have reversed more dramatically, as you can see in the images below.

Cube in 1950, Singapore in 1950, Cuba today, Singapore today

The ever-widening divergence between the two nations serves as a textbook case study of a) the economic atrophy that’s indicative of Soviet-style communism, and b) the sky-is-the-limit prosperity that comes with the sort of American-style free market capitalism Lee introduced to Singapore.

Sound fiscal policy, a strong emphasis on free trade and competitive tax rates have transformed the Southeast Asian city-state from an impoverished third world country into a bustling metropolis and global financial hub that today rivals New York City, London and Switzerland. Between 1965 and 1990—the year he stepped down as prime minister—Lee grew Singapore’s per capita GDP a massive 2,800 percent, from $500 to $14,500.

Since then, its per capita GDP based on purchasing power parity (PPP) has caught up with and zoomed past America’s.

Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore Flourished while Fidel Castro's Cuba Floundered
click to enlarge

Under Castro and his brother Raúl’s control, Cuba’s once-promising economy has deteriorated, private enterprise has all but been abolished and the poverty rate stands at 26 percent. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, “the average Cuban’s standard of living remains at a lower level than before the collapse of the Soviet Union.” Its government is currently facing bankruptcy. And among 11.3 million of Cuba’s inhabitants, only 5 million—less than 45 percent of the population—participate in the labor force.

Compare that to Singapore: Even though the island is home to a mere 5.4 million people, its labor force hovers above 3.4 million.

Singapore Had Third-Highest GDP Based on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) Per Capita

Because of the free-market policies that Lee implemented, Singapore is ranked first in the world on the World Bank Group’s Ease of Doing Business list and, for the fourth consecutive year, ranked second on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. The Heritage Foundation ranks the nation second on its 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, writing:

Sustained efforts to build a world-class financial center and further open its market to global commerce have led to advances in… economic freedoms, including financial freedom and investment freedom.

Cuba, meanwhile, comes in at number 177 on the Heritage Foundation’s list and is the “least free of 29 countries in the South and Central America/Caribbean region.” The Caribbean island-state doesn’t rank at all on the World Bank Group’s list, which includes 189 world economies.

Many successful international businesses have emerged and thrived in the Singapore that Lee created, the most notable being Singapore Airlines. Founded in 1947, the carrier has ascended to become one of the most profitable companies in the world. It’s been recognized as the world’s best airline countless times by dozens of groups and publications. Recently it appeared on Fortune’s Most Admired Companies list.

Singapore AIrlines

We at U.S. Global Investors honor the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew, founder of modern-day Singapore. He showed the world that when a country chooses to open its markets and foster a friendly business environment, strength and prosperity follow. Even on the other side of the globe, the American Dream lives on.

 

 

The Global Competitiveness Index, developed for the World Economic Forum, is used to assess competitiveness of nations. The Index is made up of over 113 variables, organized into 12 pillars, with each pillar representing an area considered as an important determinant of competitiveness: institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic stability, health and primary education, higher education and training, goods market efficiency, labor market efficiency, financial market sophistication, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication and innovation.

The Ease of Doing Business Index is an index created by the World Bank Group. Higher rankings (a low numerical value) indicate better, usually simpler, regulations for businesses and stronger protections of property rights.

The Index of Economic Freedom is an annual index and ranking created by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal in 1995 to measure the degree of economic freedom in the world's nations.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. None of the securities mentioned in the article were held by any accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 9/30/2016.

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. By clicking the link(s) above, you will be directed to a third-party website(s). U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by this/these website(s) and is not responsible for its/their content.

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Surprise! Buffett Books a Flight on Airline Stocks
November 21, 2016

warren buffett bets big on airlines

It’s never too late to change your mind.

After years of deriding the airline industry, Warren Buffett confirmed last week that his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, has invested nearly $1.3 billion in four big-name domestic carriers: American, Delta, United and Southwest.

Domestic Airlines Surge Buffett Investment News
click to enlarge

The stake is a dramatic reversal for the 86-year-old investing wizard, who previously called the industry a capital “death trap” and once joked that investors would have been served well had Orville Wright’s plane been shot down at Kitty Hawk.

The thing is, Buffett held these opinions long before airlines began making the fundamental changes that would flip their fortunes from bankruptcy to record profitability. When Buffett first tried his hand at making money in the aviation industry in 1989, airlines were still struggling in a fiercely competitive marketplace. Many carriers called it quits, including President-elect Donald Trump’s Trump Shuttle, which ceased operations in 1992. Others spent years in bankruptcy court.

But following the massive wave of industry consolidation between 2005 and 2010, a new business environment emerged, one characterized by disciplined capacity growth, new sources of revenue, greater efficiency and a commitment to repairing balance sheets. 

2 million people fly us every day

Buffett also likes airlines now for the same reason he’s long been a fan of railroads—namely, the barriers to entry are extremely high if not entirely impenetrable to new competitors. This is the “moat” Buffett refers to when talking about rail.

As a value investor, he prefers inexpensive stocks, and among industrials, airlines are cheapest of all, based on price-to-earnings and cash flow.

Airlines Least Expensive Among Industrials
click to enlarge

Buffett’s bullish rotation into airlines was followed by news last week that Citi also made fresh buys of Southwest, Delta, American and Allegiant shares, on the “broad theme that sector consolidation and an improved economy will reap benefits,” according to Seeking Alpha’s Clark Shultz.

 

Challenges still remain, of course, but domestic airlines today are profit-making, dividend-paying machines. In the first nine months of 2016, the top nine U.S. carriers—Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United—reported combined net income of $18.3 billion. That’s quite an improvement from the $11.2 billion they pocketed for the entire year in 2014.

Domestic airlines 11 billion shareholders nine month 2016

Over the same nine-month period, airlines returned $11.4 billion to shareholders via stock buybacks ($10.5 billion) and dividends ($912 million), according to industry trade group Airlines for America (A4A).

Here’s Why Blue Skies Could Last

In the near-term and long-term, airlines continue to look very attractive. Air travel demand is rising as incomes grow and the size of the global middle class expands.

This Thanksgiving week, more than 27 million passengers are expected to fly on U.S. airlines, an increase of 2.5 percent over the previous year, according to A4A. Much of the demand is being driven by affordable airfare, which is at its lowest in seven years.

The picture looks just as optimistic further down the road. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) sees global passenger demand nearly doubling over the next 20 years. The group expects 7.2 billion people to fly in 2035, up dramatically from 3.8 billion last year.

chinas middle class overtakes us

The Asia-Pacific region should be the biggest demand driver, with China displacing the U.S. as the world’s largest aviation market. As I’ve written about before, the U.S. and China both agreed to extend visas for business travelers, tourists and students, which has already led to increased travel between the two nations. When I last visited the New York Stock Exchange recently, I noticed that half of the tourists appeared to be from China.

What Effect Might President Trump Have on Airlines?

In the week following the presidential election, we saw modest gains in several sectors, including airlines. Evercore ISI’s proprietary Company Surveys, designed to monitor the economy on a weekly basis, showed a post-election bounce, rising 1.1 points to 49.6.

steady improvement week following election
click to enlarge

In many more ways than one, Donald Trump is unlike any other person ever to occupy the White House, bringing with him a unique set of skills and experiences that no other president can claim. As I mentioned earlier, he will become the first U.S. president who was formerly an airline executive. He also boasts an extensive background in tourism and hospitality, having built and managed everything from hotels to resorts to golf courses

Donald Trump first US president airline executive

Industry leaders, therefore, hope Trump will prove to be a powerful ally and take their side on several key issues. For starters, many are encouraged that the president-elect has proposed as much as $1 trillion in infrastructure spending on “our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” as he announced the day following last week’s election.

Trump has also promised to swing the pendulum away from monetary policy toward fiscal policy—cutting taxes and relaxing regulations—which has put Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on the defensive. On Friday, she defended the Dodd-Frank Act, which Trump has vowed to dismantle, stating a repeal would increase the likelihood of another financial crisis.

As for the aviation industry, U.S. carriers have been pushing Congress for years to reform air traffic control so that the steering wheel is in the hands not of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) but a private, not-for-profit entity. Canada made a similar transition in 1996 when it turned authority of its civil air navigation service over to the privately-run Nav Canada, which today manages approximately 12 million aircraft movements a year.

The industry would also like to see open talks with several state-owned Middle Eastern carriers, whose governments provide tens of billions of dollars in “unfair” subsidies every year.

Jill Zuckman, chief spokesperson for Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, an airline lobby group, has urged Trump, a harsh critic of international trade agreements, to protect the interests of American airlines and workers.

“The Gulf carrier subsidies threaten the jobs of 300,000 U.S. aviation workers and the American aviation industry as a whole,” Zuckman alleged, “and we are optimistic that the Trump administration will stand up to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, enforce our trade agreements and fight for American jobs.”

Other leaders see headwinds in some of Trump’s more isolationist and nativist rhetoric, particularly his tough stance on immigration from Mexico—currently the number two market for travel and tourism to the U.S.—and Arabic-speaking countries.

Arrivals into the U.S. by Country, 2013
Rank Country Number of Visitors,
in Millions
Percent Share
#1
Canada Flag
Canada
23.39 33.5%
#2
Mexico Flag
Mexico
14.34 20.6%
#3
UK Flag
United Kingdom
3.84 5.5%
#4
Japan Flag
Japan
3.73 5.3%
#5
Brazil Flag
Brazil
2.06 3.0%
#6
Germany Flag
Germany
1.92 2.7%
#7
China Flag
China
1.81 2.6%
#8
France Flag
France
1.50 2.2%
#9
South Korea Flag
South Korea
1.36 1.9%
#10
Australia Flag
Australia
1.21 1.7%

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, a travel ban on Muslims entering the U.S.—a controversial proposal Trump has since softened—could cost the U.S. economy as much as $71 billion a year and up to 132,000 American jobs. As The Economist pointed out in a recent article, travelers from the Middle East tend to be big spenders, shelling out 50 percent more per trip than Europeans on average.

Trump has also expressed interest in reversing current diplomatic relations with Cuba, favoring a reinstatement of old travel and trade embargos. (“The people of Cuba have struggled too long,” he tweeted in October. “Will reverse Obama’s Executive Orders and concessions towards Cuba until freedoms are restored.”) Many U.S. airlines have already begun scheduled flights to Havana, including United, American and Southwest, with others soon to follow (JetBlue, Alaska, Delta and Spirit, among others).

As for whom Trump might name as head of the Transportation Department—which oversees the FAA, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Railroad Administration and other agencies—rumors are circulating that it’s come down to either Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), former House Transportation Committee chairman; or James Simpson, former commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Transportation.

The airline industry has proven itself resilient time and again, emerging stronger from a decade ago. For investors, the group is relatively inexpensive and generous with its dividends and stock buybacks. Changes might very well be in the cards, but I remain bullish on airlines, just as Warren Buffett is.

 

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. By clicking the link(s) above, you will be directed to a third-party website(s). U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by this/these website(s) and is not responsible for its/their content.

The S&P 500 Stock Index is a widely recognized capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stock prices in U.S. companies.

Cash flow is the total amount of money being transferred into and out of a business, especially as affecting liquidity.

The price-earnings ratio (P/E Ratio) is the ratio for valuing a company that measures its current share price relative to its per-share earnings.

There is no guarantee that the issuers of any securities will declare dividends in the future or that, if declared, will remain at current levels or increase over time.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. The following securities mentioned in the article were held by one or more accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 9/30/2016: American Airlines Group Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., Allegiant Travel Co., Alaska Air Group Inc., Hawaiian Holdings Inc., JetBlue Airways Corp., Spirit Airlines Inc. 

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Manufacturing Activity in China Just Shifted into Overdrive
November 7, 2016

Nanpu Bridge  

A wave of positive economic data suggests the Chinese economy is stabilizing and that business confidence is improving. The country’s purchasing managers’ index (PMI), which measures the health of its manufacturing industry, rose to 51.2 in October, handily beating economists’ estimates of 50.3.

Chinese Manufacturing Beats Expectations
click to enlarge

Expanding at its fastest pace since July 2014, the industry was stimulated by a strong rebound in new orders and higher commodity prices. Output rose to an incredible five-and-a-half-year high. And with backlogs of work beginning to pile up, manufacturers trimmed employees at the slowest pace in 17 months.

I’ve previously written about the importance of tracking the PMI, which you can read here.

Also encouraging is the country’s third-quarter gross domestic product growth, which came in at 6.7 percent for the third straight quarter, all but assuring investors that the economy can achieve the government’s earlier guidance of between 6.5 percent and 7 percent. Higher business confidence helped maintain steady growth, “as proved by the rebound of medium to long-term corporate loans and reacceleration of private investment growth,” according to Singapore-based OCBC Bank.

Consumer spending appears to be robust. In the first nine months of the year, consumption contributed nearly 60 percent to GDP growth, with significant demand gains made in health care, education, financial products and entertainment.

Automobile sales jumped a phenomenal 32 percent year-over-year in September, the fourth straight month of growth exceeding 20 percent. Sales have been so robust—reflecting a rush to purchase new cars before the government’s reduction in sales tax on small vehicles expires at year-end—that new vehicle purchases in China are expected to surpass sales in North America for the first time ever this year.

China Expected Surpass North America Automobile Sales
click to enlarge

Such a great number of cars on the road has resulted in famously massive traffic jams that turned miles of highways into parking lots. Some as many as 50 lanes wide, the very worst incidents in Beijing found hundreds of drivers stuck in lines for days. Beijing officials have recently proposed stopgap measures, but the nightmare congestion underscores the need for greater capacity, which will require even more investment from the Chinese government, not to mention untold amounts of cement, asphalt, steel and other materials.

But really, these are traffic jams you have to see to believe.

China Attracting Assets

The market seems to like what it sees. The Shanghai Composite Index is back up to levels last seen in January, fueled by not only encouraging manufacturing data but also hopes the government will make good on its promises to support infrastructure spending and restructure state-run enterprises. Stocks recently signaled a bullish “golden cross,” when the shorter-term moving average crosses above the longer-term average. 

Chinas Golden Cross
click to enlarge

In a note last week, Goldman Sachs analysts reported they expect reforms to accelerate in the next few years as China transitions from a middle-income country to an advanced economy. Reforms include efforts to restructure or eliminate “zombie” state-owned enterprises and remove marginal capacity. New policies on how to address public corruption have also been floated.

Among ETFs focused on a single emerging market, China funds attracted the largest inflows in the month of October, with new money totaling $275 million, according to Citi Research data.

Inflows into Mexico-focused ETFs were a distant second, at $133 million, indicating a surplus of bets on a Hillary Clinton presidential win this week.

Who Will Lead the SEC in a Clinton Administration?

SEC Chair Elizabeth Warren

SEC Chair Elizabeth Warren
Photo by Tim Pierce / CC-BY

While I’m on the topic of the election, I find it worth sharing that a shake-up at the very top of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) could be unfolding in front of our eyes—with some potentially serious ramifications.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of the most outspoken critics of Wall Street serving in Congress today, recently urged President Barack Obama to remove Mary Jo White as head of the SEC for, among other things, failure to fully implement the Dodd-Frank financial reforms.

The White House flatly rejected Warren’s request, but it raises a few questions: Is she positioning herself to run the SEC herself? Could Sen. Warren, a strong supporter of Clinton, be appointed as the new SEC chair if Clinton were to win? What effect would that have on capital markets?

Although pure speculation, the scenario is worth pondering.

Another Infrastructure Boom Ahead?

Much has been made of the Chinese economy’s transition from one driven by industrial production to one supported by consumption and services. While this shift is indeed taking place, China still remains the world’s largest engine for energy and materials demand, with support from a growing population and rising household income.

The country imported a record amount of crude oil in September, up 18 percent year-over-year, surpassing the U.S. for the second time in 2016. Averaging 8 million barrels a day, imports came close to the 8.6 million daily barrels the U.S. produces on average.

China Imported Record Volumes Crude September
click to enlarge

I also would like to point out that China remains the world’s number one generator of electricity. The chart below shows just how dramatic capacity growth was in the first decade of the century. In 1990, the country’s electricity needs were equivalent to Latin America’s, but as its government pushed ahead with fiscal spending for huge infrastructure projects, demand blew past the continents of Europe and North America.

China Leads World Electricity Generation
click to enlarge

Although infrastructure investment has declined overall from this period, there’s still plenty to get excited about. In the first eight months of 2016, infrastructure spending rose an impressive 19.7 percent over the same period last year, and in May, the government announced it would be pumping more than $721 billion into as many as 303 transportation projects over the next three years.

Two projects in particular are worth noting here. Construction on what will eventually be the world’s largest airport by surface area is currently underway in Beijing. Upon completion in 2019, the $12 billion airport, to be called Beijing Daxing International Airport, will serve as many as 100 million passengers a year, roughly in line with the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Then there’s the ongoing Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one of the most ambitious undertakings in human history. With total infrastructure costs estimated at $5 trillion, the biblical-size trading endeavor—a sort of 21st century Silk Road—will cost 12 times as much as what the U.S. spent on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe following World War II. The initiative has the participation of 65 countries from Asia, Africa and Europe, and is poised to raise the living standards for more than half of the world’s population.

Chinas multi trillion dollar belt and road initiative
click to enlarge

“Though China’s pace of expansion has slowed from the double-digit rates seen in the first decade of the century,” writes HSBC’s Noel Quinn, Chief Executive of Global Commercial Banking, “its global influence—as the world’s second-largest economy and a trading powerhouse—is far greater than 10 or even five years ago. The country’s overseas investments are only likely to increase, further underlining its pivotal role.”

HSBC: Your Candidate’s Win Could Reward Gold Investors

With the U.S. presidential election upon us, London-based HSBC says gold investors should see a significant bump in price no matter who wins.

The bank sees a Trump victory more supportive of gold as a potential “protection against protectionism”—the New York businessman has been very critical of trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—but a Clinton win could also help boost prices to as high as $1,400 by year end, HSBC says.

As always, I recommend a 10 percent weighting in gold—5 percent in bullion and coins, 5 percent in gold stocks. Rebalance every year.

 

The Shanghai Composite Index (SSE) is an index of all stocks that trade on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

The Caixin China Report on General Manufacturing is based on data compiled from monthly replies to questionnaires sent to purchasing executives in over 420 manufacturing companies. The panel is stratified by company size and Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) group, based on industry contribution to Chinese GDP. Survey responses reflect the change, if any, in the current month compared to the previous month based on data collected mid-month.

The Purchasing Manager’s Index is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector. The PMI index is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment.

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. By clicking the link(s) above, you will be directed to a third-party website(s). U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by this/these website(s) and is not responsible for its/their content.

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Indian Gold Jewelry Sales Set to Hit a Four-Year High
October 17, 2016

Indian households have the world's largest private gold holdings at 23,000 tonnes

Just as April showers bring May flowers, plentiful monsoon rains in India tend to drive up demand for gold jewelry among rural, income-flush farmers, who make up a third of the country’s consumption of the yellow metal.

It’s a relief to hear, then, that India just had its best monsoon season in three years, with heavy rains washing away people’s fears of yet another drought.

Add to that the fact that the yellow metal is now trading in the affordable $1,250 to $1,260 range—a sizeable discount from only a month ago—and gold jewelry sales are expected to surge as much as 60 percent over last year, according to the India Bullion and Jewellers Association.

That would take sales to a four-year high as we near Diwali—traditionally a time when gold-buying is considered auspicious—which would help support prices.

Following Diwali comes the important Indian wedding season. It’s almost impossible to exaggerate how massive this industry is, with one India-based research firm expecting it to hit 1.6 trillion rupees ($24 billion) by 2020.

I’ve shared with you before that between 35 percent and 40 percent of a typical Indian wedding’s expenses is devoted to gold jewelry. If we use the higher estimate, that means close to $10 billion could be spent on gold alone.

But for spending like this to happen, a strong monsoon is needed, which farmers in many parts of India got this year.

A Longstanding History of Driving the World Gold Market

For millennia, gold has played a key role in Indian culture, valued not only for its beauty and durability but also as financial security. That’s no less true today. A 2013 survey conducted by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) found that more than three quarters of Indians view the precious metal as a “safe investment.”

The same FICCI study also found that gold is a regular line item in most Indian households’ budgets, comparable to what they spend every year on medical expenses and clothing.

Gold is Among Indian Households Regular Expenditures
click to enlarge

It should come as little surprise, then, that Indian households have the largest private gold holdings in the world. Standing at an estimated 23,000 tonnes, and worth close to a whopping $1 trillion, the amount surpasses the combined official gold reserves of the United States, Germany, Italy, France, China and Russia.

Analysts: Gold Is Setting Up for a Big Comeback

After logging its best first half of the year in 40 years, gold is now trading range-bound while we await the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise rates in December. Most, but certainly not all, of the recent economic data seems to be pointing in this direction, with initial jobless claims at a four-decade low, voluntary quits at pre-recession levels and household income finally on the rise.

The week before last was especially brutal. With markets in China, the world’s largest consumer, closed in observance of Golden Week, the short sellers had free rein, driving the price down more than 3 percent on Tuesday alone.

Despite the weakness, inflows into gold ETFs continue to pour in, as savvy investors recognize that real, or inflation-adjusted, Treasury yields are still in negative territory. I use the 2-year yield here because it’s what many currency traders look at.

Low to Negative Treasury Yields Have Helped Drive Up Gold
click to enlarge

But now some analysts see gold ready to turn again, perhaps prefacing a rally that could carry the metal to an all-time high.

In a note last week, UBS said that as long as the Fed doesn’t hike rates too quickly, gold should resume its upward momentum. And remember, the bull market was triggered last December after the Fed raised rates for the first time in nearly a decade.

Gold Performance Around September FOMC Meetings, 2015 and 2016
click to enlarge

Meanwhile, London-based investment firm Incrementum suggested last week that gold could reach a new record within the next two years, supported by higher consumer prices, low to negative government bond yields and a lack of confidence in central bank policy.

“In this uncharted territory, with big monetary experiments going on, it just makes sense” to hold bullion, Ronald Stoeferle, a managing director at Incrementum, told Bloomberg.

Peak Platinum and Palladium Demand?

Consensus suggests gold has a positive long-term outlook, but platinum and palladium might be looking at an uncertain future.

Platinum and Palladium Under Pressure
click to enlarge

As you probably know, the platinum-group metals (PGM) are used predominantly in the fabrication of automobile catalytic converters, which are responsible for reducing emissions. Platinum is used in diesel-powered engines, palladium in gasoline-powered engines.

With vehicle sales in China rising rapidly, demand for PGMs is still strong. In fact, demand for palladium rose 3 percent this year, hitting a fresh all-time high, according to CPM Group.

Pallladium Usage on a Global Scale

But trouble could be brewing as more and more automakers deepen their shift toward battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) in an effort to comply with international environmental regulations and meet growing consumer demand. Since these vehicles don’t have an internal combustion engine, there are no emissions, meaning PGMs are not needed.

Government policy has largely driven the emphasis on BEVs, with a few nations around the world committed to banning internal combustion engines from roads within the next 10 to 20 years.

Norway was the first, pledging to eliminate them by 2025, less than 10 years from now. The Netherlands is considering a similar ban, effective the same year. And India wants to be the first “100 percent electric vehicle nation” by 2030.

Last week, Germany—the world’s fourth-largest automobile manufacturer, home to Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkswagen—voted to do away with all fossil fuel-powered vehicles within 15 years.

Pallladium Usage on a Global Scale

In its platinum and palladium outlook, Metals Focus writes that “for every additional 1 percent of global passenger car production that BEVs claim in 2020, our model suggests a loss of more than 100,000 ounces (3 tonnes) of combined PGMs offtake that year.”

All in all, not good for PGMs.  

However, it is good for copper. As I’ve pointed out before, BEVs use about three times as much copper wiring as traditional combustion engines vehicles.

It’s important to recognize that disruptive technologies have always changed markets. Right now, one of them is battery-electric vehicles. Embrace them or not, the decision is yours. But as investors, we must acknowledge which way the wind is blowing, and adapt—or be left behind.

The French Are at It Again

One final note: Last month, I shared with you the story that European regulators were going after big Americans companies such as Netflix, Facebook, Amazon and more. Their envy policies demand that, if they can’t build their own companies that are just as successful, they’ll tax and regulate them into non-competitiveness.

This socialist mindset is now taking aim at internet content providers.

Last week, according to Zero Hedge, the French parliament introduced a bill that, if enacted, would levy a 2 percent tax on all ad-generated revenue on sites that distribute free content—sites such as YouTube and Dailymotion (a France-based video-sharing site).

This is just the latest example of how Europe is undermining American companies. Why hasn’t Europe created its own Netflix or Facebook? Where’s its Silicon Valley? The continent’s miles of red tape and envy policies have essentially prohibited entrepreneurism and innovation. And instead of relaxing regulations, it chooses to punish U.S. firms for their success.

 

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. By clicking the link(s) above, you will be directed to a third-party website(s). U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by this/these website(s) and is not responsible for its/their content.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. None of the securities mentioned in the article were held by any accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 6/30/2016.

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How Gold Came to South Korea's Rescue
September 27, 2016

A busy street in Seoul, filled with shoppers.

Nineteen years ago, South Korea came precipitously close to bankruptcy.

The Asian financial crisis had spread like a virus. Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries were all affected, inciting fears of a global economic meltdown if the crisis couldn’t be contained.

Before 1997, South Korea had been held up as a textbook example of economic reversal and resilience.

Once a poor colony, the country underwent an unbelievably rapid transformation in the second half of the 20th century, propelled by smart policy reforms and heavy investment in education. Many called it the “Miracle on the Han River.” By the end of the century, Korea had grown to become the world’s 11th largest economy. Residents had the incomes to enjoy comfortable, “Western” lifestyles.

But in the summer of ‘97, the bug arrived in Seoul. Businesses began to fail. Left with nonperforming loans, banks collapsed, while others discontinued fresh lending. The won was in freefall. Liquidity dried up. Foreign investors yanked nearly $18 billion out of the country. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs.

Korea’s only recourse was to seek help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and in December, the lender approved a gargantuan $58 billion bailout package, the largest in history. The deal required Korea to liberalize trade and its capital accounts, reform its labor market, restructure corporate governance and more.

A new crisis emerged, then, which native Koreans still refer to as the “IMF Crisis.”

The government wasted no time in raising the funds to pay back the loan, and on January 5, 1998, a national campaign was launched that today stands as one of the most moving shows of patriotism and self-sacrifice the world has ever known.

In Times of Economic Crisis, People Have Turned to Gold
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The Drive for Gold

At the time, it was estimated that South Korean households held roughly $20 billion in gold, in the form of necklaces, coins, bars, trinkets, statuettes, medals, pendants, military insignias and more. Most of it carried strong personal and familial significance, far beyond its monetary value.

Gold, after all, has typically played an auspicious role in Koreans’ personal milestones. Many families celebrate an infant’s first birthday in a tradition known as doljanchi, during which gifts of 24-karat gold rings are customary. Gold jewelry and watches are routinely given to newlyweds, as we also see in India, Turkey and elsewhere. Companies often award retirees with gold keychains.

This is the Love Trade I speak so frequently about, responsible for driving a huge percentage of the demand and price of gold. In many parts of the world, gold jewelry is more than just beautiful ornamentation—it’s also prized as an important form of financial security.

In Times of Economic Crisis, People Have Turned to GoldKoreans know this all too well. Ninety years earlier, in 1907, the Korean Empire owed Japan 13 million won, equivalent to an entire year’s budget. To help pay it off, men quit smoking while women sold their cherished wedding jewelry.

Gold again came to Korea’s aid in 1998.

Nearly 3.5 million people, almost a quarter of the entire country’s population, voluntarily participated in the campaign. Queues of people—young and old, rich and poor—stretched for blocks outside special donation points, all of them answering the call to help their country. Yellow ribbons proclaiming “Let’s overcome the foreign currency crisis by collecting gold” could be found pinned to people’s shirts.

Big-name Korean corporations, from Samsung to Hyundai to Daewoo, lent their marketing strength to help spread the word, as did celebrities. Lee Jong-beom, a hot young baseball star, drew national attention when he brought in 31.5 ounces of gold, valued at over $9,000, all in the form of trophies and medals he had acquired over his five-year career.

On average, each person donated 65 grams of the yellow metal, or a little over $640 based on prices at the time.

In the Associated Press video below, you can see the various types of items Koreans donated. Please note that the video is Korean, so I can’t attest to what’s being said.

In as little as two months, 226 metric tons, valued at $2.2 billion, were collected, every last scrap of which was melted into ingots and promptly delivered to the IMF.

Although this amount was just a drop in the bucket, the gold collecting campaign served as an important rallying point early on in South Korea’s effort to tackle its debt, not to mention the fact that it demonstrated the deep patriotism and unity of its people. The Love Trade helped the country pay back the $58 billion loan in full by August 2001—nearly three years ahead of schedule.

Gold Recycling up 10 Percent

Korea’s is arguably the best known example of gold recycling, which the World Gold Council defines as gold that is “sold for cash by consumers or other supply-chain players,” including countries.

Of course, it’s not the only example.

Although central banks as a whole have been net buyers of the precious metal since 2010, Venezuela is in liquidation mode, having sold off most of its gold reserves since March 2015 in an effort to offset low oil prices and to pay down debts. Good thing the socialist country had gold to fall back on, as bolivar notes are now so worthless, some Venezuelans have found that it’s cheaper to use the bills as napkins than to buy actual napkins.

Because the precious metal is virtually indestructible, all gold ever mined is still available in some form or another, making recycling an important part of  supply. The rate of recycling has tended to ramp up during times of economic crises, or when gold prices in a country’s currency accelerate. Look at how recycling in the U.S. has correlated to prices.  

Infrastructure Spending Evolves Regions Economic Growth
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With gold having posted its best first half of the year since 1974 and on track for its best full year since 2010, more people are taking their old coins and rings to the pawn shop. In the first six months, the rate of recycling was up 10 percent compared to the same period in 2015, as Bloomberg reports.

 

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